Senators vs Congressmen

We’ve got the Senate. People who serve there are called Senators.

We’ve got Congress. Why is it THE Senate, and just Congress? Not THE Congress?

Also, why aren’t the folks there called Congressors? Instead of Congressman and Congresswoman? Or (worse idea), why not call Senators Senatmen and Senatwomen?

Obviously the first approach is a better one… so why are we stuck with two parts of the same house with such different rules?

Wrong. The Senate is part of Congress; the other house is the House of Representatives. Its members are called “Congressmen” because no one wants to use such a generic term as “Representative.”

The words are treated differently because they came to English by different routes: “senator” was already a word in Latin; there was no word for “congressman” because there was no such thing in Rome.

Actually, Senators are Congressmen. A member of the House is called a Representative. As in, Rep. Foley, or Rep. Pelosi.

And we do say “The Congress” depending upon how we are using the term. Since the noun “congress”, like the noun “college” is a collective term dealing with a grouping of people (from congressus (L) “those who have come together”), we can talk about them collectively (“Congress is considering legislation on trade.”) or we can talk about the institution (“The Congress has need of more security.”). You will note the somewhat famous construction, “The United States in Congress assembled …” The Senate, on the other hand (as well as THE House) are institutions only; they are not the groupings of people that attend those places.

I’ve heard “the Congress” on occasion, but not too often. As noted, “The House” and “The Senate” is consistent.

My question would be, why are “Congressman” (and -woman) considered interchangeable with “Representative,” but not with “Senator?” You might hear Rep. Barney Frank called Congressman Frank, but nobody would call Joe Biden Congressman Biden.

It can be a little confusing for foreigners, and even for some Americans.

Just skimmed my copy of the Constitution, and it looks like the phrase “the Congress” is used more often than simply “Congress.” Some TV talking head awhile back (William Safire, maybe?) insisted that “the Congress” is the proper phrase, but nowadays it sounds a little pompous, IMHO, and the indefinite article is dropped by most people when it’s not absolutely necessary anyway.

“Congressman” or “Congresswoman” are often used in everyday speech (or “Congresscritter” by the sarcastic/embittered), but Congressional stationery that I’ve seen usually uses either “United States Representative” or “Member of Congress” (or even “M.C.,” under the frank on envelopes) in referring to members of the House.

It’s just one of those many annoyances of common usage. Technically, Senators and Representatives are both Congressmen, and the formal title of a member of the House is “Representative.” Nonetheless, everyone understands that when you use the unqualified “congressman” or “congressmen,” you’re almost always talking about members of the House exclusively. Anything to save a couple syllables, I guess.

As to the definite article issue, the Constitution itself refers to “the Congress” many, many times.

There seems to be some growing myth that people don’t like the word “representative.” It isn’t true. It’s very commonly used. No one rejects the word as “generic” or anything else.

A bit of a hijack, but a perfect place to talk about my newsreading pet peeve.

The word “congressional” isn’t capitalized unless it’s part of a proper noun, i.e. “Congressional Black Caucus.”

Doesn’t matter where you look-- even on the Hill, or in the presidential campaigns-- I’ll see “Congressional.”

"Today, Congressional leaders convened to discuss. . . "

Just really peeves me to no end.*

*Reason why-- I’ve worked for a dozen years in congressional relations ;-).

The Senate has more cachet than the House. This is informal, but it’s widely understood. Referring to a Senator as “Congressman” may not be technically incorrect, but it’s gauche at best, an insult at worst. Whereas that doesn’t apply for representatives.

Indeed, I agree with ascenray that the term “representative” is in wide use when talking about members of the House. One convenience of the word is that, like “senator,” it’s gender neutral. That said, my sense is that when you’re speaking to members directly, you almost always refer to them as Congressman or -woman Smith in favor of Representative Smith.


I believe the official collective term for these folks is “liar”. :smiley:

“Representative Cholmondeley” is a mouthful; while one tends to write “Rep. Smith” for a House member, one tends to say “Congressman Smith.”

It must be remembered, that the Founding Fathers wrote at a Time, when they tended to chuse Punctuation and Capitalization, strongly influenced by german Usage.

Senators would never put up with such lowering by title. They are a cocky bunch.

Of course, having one on your plane, insures that you will to your destination on time, or early, with no landing delays. :smiley: (I’ve been on DCA-BOS flights several times with the MA Junior Senator, and those flights always arrived early. Every other flight on the same carrier, at the same time that I took wasn’t.)

My inlaws, and my wife, commonly refer to the House as “Congress” and the Senate as “The Senate”. . . and I hate that . . . but, they don’t seem to get it when I correct them. (shrug)

I know the Constitution says The Congress, but it’s pretty much fallen away from standard usage. And I never realized Senators were also… uh… Congressors.

That’s it. I’ve decided. I’m calling them Congressors. Starting a new trend. As stated above, Representative is too long. If our language evolves from new common usages, well then SOMEONE has to start it. If only one of the Seinfeld episodes had presented this, it would surely have entered the lexicon by now…

You see the same pattern in the U.K. and Canada. Both have bicameral Parliaments, but “Member of Parliament” or “M.P.” invariably is used to refer to the members of the lower House, the House of Commons. Members of the House of Lords (in the U.K.) or the Senate (in Canada) are equally members of Parliament, but the term is never used to refer to a Lord or a Senator.

Of course, there is the practical difference from the U.S. situation that the power in both Parliaments resides in the lower House, not the Lords or the Senate, so using the term “Member of Parliament” to refer to members of the Commons does refer to the more powerful politicians who exercise the power of the Parliament.

<pointless aside>I say ‘congresscritter’ because it’s gender-neutral and I think it’s funny. No other reason. </pointless aside>

Moderator Caution
Chefguy. I want to remind you you’re in General Questions. This kind of remark is better thrown into a discussion in one of the other forums. Please don’t do it again. (Not a formal warning).
samclem Moderator, General Questions

Beat to the punch. And by a carrot, no less! :slight_smile: